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What reptiles and amphibians am I likely to see?

What types of Reptiles and Amphibians can I see?- Throughout the world, reptiles and especially amphibians are becoming extinct or endangered at alarming rates. Among the most specialized and ecologically fragile of species, they are falling victim to habitat reduction and the effects of pollution. The Amazon, although by no means an untouchable haven, remains a stronghold for many of these disappearing creatures solely because of its vast size and relative freedom from pollution. Anglers can see many of the species described below.

caiman
A caiman spotted on one of our Amazon fishing trips.

Crocodilians - Three species of caiman, close relatives of the alligator, inhabit the freshwaters of Amazonia. The spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus), reaching up to almost 6 feet in length and the smaller dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) are found throughout the rivers we fish.
The giant black caiman (Melanosuchus niger), often reaching lengths of over 18 feet, has long been a member of the endangered species list. Extensive hunting for their skins has resulted in serious population reductions throughout South America. Now, however, after two decades of protection, we routinely sight giant specimens in the remote regions where we fish.

Snakes - Although the Amazon is home to a great variety of snakes, it takes some fair amount of effort and knowledge to actually find them. The popular imagination always associates the jungle with hordes of snakes writhing everywhere. The reality is that snakes are not commonly encountered due to their secretive and nocturnal natures.  Under most circumstances, anglers rarely see them in the riverine environment. For those who are interested, properly equipped and prepared, a wide array of species can be sighted by exploring in forest areas. Although most species are non-poisonous and not aggressive, viewing them from a distance without contact is highly recommended for the non-expert, just as it would be in North American forests.

Lizards - Many varieties of small lizard, including species of anole, skinks and geckos are common in Amazonia, often chasing small insect prey. The larger Ctenosaurs (black iguanas) and Iguanidae (the green type we know as pets) browse on fruits and leaves and any accidental delicacies, such as birds eggs or mouse nests that they might stumble upon. The large (up to 4 foot long), fast and wary ‘jacareranha (Tupinambis nigropuctatus) can often be spotted on riverbanks, poking among downed tree limbs and brush piles. The tegu, the largest of the South American lizards (almost 5 feet in length), lives in forested areas.

Turtles - In light of the Amazon's great biodiversity, the relatively small number of turtle species found there (less than 20) is surprising. Added to this, their desirability as food has made them relatively scarce in populated areas. In the remote reaches of the rivers we fish, however, a variety of interesting species exist. The matamata (Chelus fimbriatus), a prehistoric looking giant, is an angler just as we are. Laying camouflaged on the bottom with their cavernous mouths opened wide, they wiggle their wormlike tongues in order to attract curious fishes. I know a lot of plastic worm fishermen who wish they could do the same thing as effectively. The arrau turtle (Podocnemus sp.), reaching up to 100 pounds, can be spotted basking on the banks in remote areas. The jabuti (Geocholone sp.), a large tortoise, forages for fruit in the forest.

Amphibians - A tremendous variety of the world's most unusual frogs reside in the Amazon. Showing diverse life cycle specialization and modes of reproduction, Amazonian frogs, toads and tree frogs represent the most complex levels of amphibian development anywhere. The famous poison dart frog has the unusual mating habit (for amphibians) of guarding their eggs. Upon hatching, the female carries each tadpole to its own water holding bromeliad (a tropical plant) while the male stays on guard duty. When all the young are dispersed, the female makes regular rounds of the nurseries, depositing an unfertilized egg, as food for the developing tadpole, in each one. Other remarkable species of Amazon frog give birth to live young, while some even skip the tadpole stage and emerge as fully formed miniature adults. Visitors can't miss the presence of the frogs. The chorus begins every evening at sundown and contains a cacophonous mix of voices closely resembling chainsaws, motorcycles and Budweiser commercials. After a few nights here, you can't get to sleep without it.

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